10 ways to help kids of divorce when they explode emotionally at church


Emotional Break Down

In our last post “When kids of divorce explode emotionally, how do you help the parent?” we discussed how to help the single parent whose child explodes at home.

But what do you do when an emotional explosion happens at church? You can’t send the child to his room. You must handle the explosion at the moment it happens.

Many ways we deal with children simply don’t work with children of divorce. They are hurting. Many are mourning the death of their once-intact home. Some have a divorce bucket filled to the brim, and if you add one more drop, the bucket will tip over, pouring out all their anger and rage in an emotional tirade. It can happen at home, school, and even church.

Ways to help

  1. Separate the child from the rest of the group, if possible. The last thing the child needs is a lot of onlookers.
  2. If possible, give the child comfort at the moment by placing your hand on his shoulder and talking in a low, controlled voice. This might be enough to calm some children and gently pull them back into the group.
  3. If the child is raging, do not try to touch the child, but describe what his body is doing: “Your face is going like this. Your shoulders are going like this.” When some kids become angry, they go into the lower levels of the brain, the fight-or-flight part of the brain. Then, they literally can’t think as their body reacts. When you describe what their body is doing, they’ll usually turn to look at you.
  4. As the child looks at you, express empathy, and repeat what the child has said as a question: “You’re upset because you wanted to stay at your dad’s today? I understand because sometimes when I get to visit my mom, I don’t want to come back either.”
  5. Ask, “What can I do to help you today?” If the child makes a reasonable request, honor it. If not, simply say, “Hmm, that’s not possible. How about if I ______?” and offer another idea.
  6. As the child settles down, offer him choices, such as if he wants to rejoin the group or sit or stand in the back of the room.
  7. After a rage, offer the child a glass of water. Raging can drain children, and water will rehydrate their brain. Even better, tell the child to get the glass of water. This gives the child a chance to move out of the area where he had the rage and allows his brain to move forward with a different thought.
  8. Love on this child in any way he allows. Sometimes, after an emotional explosion is the time children want to talk. This can turn into an intimate time when you can impact the child with the love of Christ.
  9. Offer a scripture or two for the child to take home and refer to over the next week.
  10. Follow up with the child. You might call, text, email, or send him a card. Next week (or in two weeks if the child goes to the other parent every other weekend), greet the child with a smile, and hug him if he will allow it.

What not to do?

Do not call the parent to come to the class. Most often, the single parent doesn’t know what to do with an emotional explosion. Sometimes, just seeing the parent will send the kid into a deeper rage.

Most times, I don’t tell the parent what happened. If I feel that the parent needs to know, I ask for the child’s permission to talk to the parent.

As well, the parent who brought the child might not be the parent the child lives with, which could cause major backlash for the child. Whatever you decide to do, allow both the child and the parent to maintain their dignity.

If you’ve ever had a child who exploded in a fit of rage, please share your story with us.


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Want to learn more about how to start a DivorceCare for Kids group for the hurting children in your community? Click here.

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